Evaluation of recent Indian action to allow use of border roads by Bangladesh
India’s decision to allow its border roads in Mizoram and Tripura to be used by Bangladeshi forces as they construct border outposts in the inhospitable terrain of the Chittagong Hill Tracts shows just how far the two countries have come to bridging their trust deficit.
Ms. Sheikh Hasina (PM of Bangladesh) has long made it clear that she would only return the visit when there are ‘substantive outcomes’ on the table, and the fact that officials are now speaking of a visit in two months’ time indicates that several important announcements can be expected.
Issues pending between India and Bangladesh
There is speculation about a defence partnership agreement, movement on the Teesta water-sharing agreement, the Ganga water barrage project, and other energy and connectivity projects. Some of these involve the Centre and the affected Indian States.
Water-sharing is a highly emotive subject, and movement on Teesta water-sharing has been held up largely because of West Bengal’s reservations.
To address them, the Central government needs to reach out to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Similarly Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has raked up the Farakka Barrage project.
For Ms. Hasina:
1. The political worries are greater. She faces an election in 2018, and with the opposition accusing her of being soft on India, she cannot be seen to be returning home empty-handed on the water question.
2. Also, while the border issue has been resolved, border firing has not ceased an issue Ms. Hasina’s rivals use to target her.
3. Meanwhile, she faces the task of addressing India’s mistrust over Chinese investment in Bangladesh, with $38 billion pledged in infrastructure cooperation and joint ventures during President Xi Jinping’s visit last year.
Therefore, a well thought of plan to address these issues is a major requirement of the contemporary time so that the earlier deals and negotiations made do not go futile.
Teesta Water Sharing issue
The Teesta River originates from the Pahunri (or Teesta Kangse) glacier above 7,068 metres (23,189 ft), and flows southward through gorges and rapids in the Sikkim Himalaya. It flows through Sikkim, West Bengal and Bangladesh where after coursing through about 45km of irrigable land, merges with the Brahmaputra River.
In 1983, an ad-hoc water sharing agreement was reached between India and Bangladesh, whereby both countries were allocated 39% and 36% of the water flow respectively.
However, the deal fell through when the then newly elected Chief Minister of West Bengal, Ms. Mamata Banerjee, refused to approve the treaty, fearing that the loss of higher volume of water to the lower riparian would cause problems in the northern region of state, especially during drier months.
Given that water is a state issue in India, and that Banerjee’s political party, the All India Trinamool Congress, is a key coalition partner of the ruling central government (in 2011), the deal could not go through without her approval. As per an agreement of 2011, which was not signed due to opposition from Banerjee, the two sides had agreed to share the river’s water 50:50, the same as the 1996 Ganges water-sharing pact between the neighbours.